That's Something You Don't See Every Day, Chauncey

Watch me pull a rabbit outta my hat!

I think it’s ridiculous, impossible and insane! I wish I’d thought of it first.

Posted by kozemp on December 25, 2009

Folks may recall that a number of years ago I attempted to move to Southern California and failed miserably at it.

My time in Los Angeles was made even worse by virtue of the fact that I was trying to spend my first Christmas alone there a very short time after I arrived. Now, don’t misunderstand me: for a number of reasons, most of which stem from an absolute refusal to even momentarily consider how my own actions might affect me, the entire endeavor was doomed to failure before it began. Looking back on it almost ten years after the fact it is obvious that moving to Los Angeles was one of my All-Time Bad Decisions, right up there with taking up smoking, taking up drinking, and asking Cindy Hennessy if she wanted to go to a movie. I knew the second I arrived there – literally the very instant I stepped out of my car – that I hated the place and I had to get out. The impending arrival of Christmas only made my burning need to escape from LA burn that much hotter, but it did afford me a single interesting experience: for one year and one year only I did my shopping somewhere other than Willow Grove Mall.

For this one year I did my Christmas shopping at Fashion Square Mall in Sherman Oaks, CA. I am someone who has a strange affinity for shopping malls, and as such a person let me tell you that Fashion Square is unmitigated crap.

Fashion Square is a total lack of imagination given form and then crammed with crappy, little stores. To wit: Fashion Square is smaller, square-footage wise, than Neshaminy Mall, but has twice as many stores. It’s design makes “boring” look like the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark: it is simply two department stores with a bunch of stuff between them in a straight line. When I first got there I couldn’t believe it. The entire mall is just a giant rectangle. It is, like the city surrounding it, designed to chip away your soul a little piece at a time until you are nothing but a shambling husk that once was a human being.

It was bad enough that I was in Los Angeles and wanted to leave more than I ever have wanted or ever will want anything, but having to do my shopping in this godforsaken retail hellhole instead of Willow Grove was actually something of a watershed day for me. Standing there in the center of that horrible place I resigned myself for the first time to the fact that there were parts of my brain I simply couldn’t control. Once you get past this fail-safe point, once you let yourself be okay with the fact that a part of your psyche is always going to say ridiculous things like “if you don’t keep your keys in your front right pocket you are going to die” and you agree to accept these statements as reasonably factual they actually become much easier to cope with.

I also decided standing in the center of Fashion Square that a dream that made you miserable and unhappy was no dream at all, and I resolved to get myself the fuck back home.

That, however, was going to be something of a problem.

I had driven out to Los Angeles and I couldn’t afford to drive back home – problematic since I had driven out there with quite literally everything I owned in a U-Haul trailer. The compromise I ended up going with, eating up every last cent I had, was that I would fly home, have a moving company carry my possessions, and have my car hauled back by a company that specialized in such things. This was actually cheaper than driving back cross-country (a feat I wouldn’t learn how to do cheaply until recently). I learned a little later that it was that cheap because the moving company I hired was the sort that would go through your boxes and steal crap from them – all of my Playstation games and, bizarrely, nothing else in my case – but that’s another story.

My car, though, is this story.

I got the call that my car would be delivered to a parking lot on Broad Street across the street from the Sports Complex. Why there? I have no idea. But I went down there to get my car anyway.

It is important to note that my car at the time was a 1988 Caprice Classic that I had bought from a friend, who himself had bought it secondhand from the Bristol Police Department. This meant that it was, essentially, the Bluesmobile. The car was fantastically large, fantastically heavy, and supercharged under the hood to an extent that would make the Millenium Falcon blush (the actual Falcon, not my ill-fated first car). The fact that the car was heavier than it was supposed to be ended up being a serious hassle for the driver who brought it back to me.

I have since been reliably informed that getting a car down from the stern-most position on the upper deck of a car carrier should take 10-15 minutes. Getting my car down took an hour and a half.

The driver of the car carrier was a guy named Booker, and he was… he was an odd duck. He had an awful lot of trouble getting my car down from the second deck of the carrier, and every time he ran into a snag – which was every 45 seconds or so – he would walk in semicircles around the back of the truck and say, as near as I could tell to no one, “this is gonna cause me problems.” At one point only three wheels of my car were actually touching the ramps of the carrier, a situation I am still unsure as to how it is even POSSIBLE, a mere few inches away from falling 10 feet off the back of the carrier and smashing into the street trunk-first, and Booker just looked at it and said, “this is gonna cause me problems.”

If my car had actually plunged to its death off the carrier I was fairly certain that it was going to cause ME more problems than anyone else, but over the 90 minutes Booker spent attempting to get my car onto the ground in once piece, he simply kept saying “this is gonna cause me problems” as though it would, Zatanna-like, magically levitate my car onto the blacktop. He kept on saying this over and over again as he worked various levers and jerked my car up and down and back and forth as he tried to get it onto the ground. After 90 minutes of my car barely clinging onto the deck of the car carrier and Booker muttering “this is gonna cause me problems” it somehow miraculously got down onto the street – I have no recollection of exactly how other than that after 90 minutes of near-death it was just suddenly on the street – and I drove home and proceeded to be absolutely, inconsolably miserable for the next two and a half years.

At this point let us fast forward to December 20, 2009.

After last year’s realization that I could do all my Christmas shopping online so long as I did it at the traditional location of Willow Grove Mall on the traditional Sunday before Christmas Eve, on Sunday I braved the aftermath of the worst December snowstorm in Philadelphia history to go to Willow Grove Park and get my Christmas shop on.

I arrived at the mall to find that the lot which contains the traditional parking space hadn’t been plowed.

I sat in my car and said to myself, “all right, deep breaths… deep breaths… this is okay. It’s okay. Come on, buddy, we can do this.”

(I don’t know why I’ve started addressing myself as “buddy” when I talk to myself, but I’m as mortified by it as anyone. This, though, is another one of those brain things that I don’t seem to have any control over.)

I parked as close as I could to the traditional parking space, grabbed my laptop, and headed up to the food court to do my Christmas shopping. For the Sunday before Christmas the place was remarkably uncrowded – I would estimate it wasn’t much worse than an average strong Saturday. I got a good table in the food court very easily, off in that corner that overlooks the entire center of the mall.

At that point I was pretty much set on what I was getting everyone, with one exception: I hadn’t pinned down what I was going to get my parents yet. The HDTV from last year was going to be tough to top. I toyed with some ideas, but they were all pretty crap – I couldn’t afford to get them plane tickets to Florida, I had long since given up on things like books or movies for my father since he never touched them, and my mother already had the complete set of Magnum PI seasons on DVD.

While poking around on Amazon I looked at the clock in the bottom right corner and realized that if I wanted to make it home in time for the Eagles game I wouldn’t have to hurry, necessarily, but that I couldn’t really dawdle.

It was that thought that set off one of the bizarre chain-reaction series of associations that are an annoying hallmark of my thinking (annoying because it’s hard to stop them before they inexorably get to things that are horrible). It went something like this:

“Eagles game – game on TV – Joe Buck is such a fucking douchebag – had to listen to that twat Al Michaels at the bar last week – at least at home we have Merrill – do we use the home theater for anything other than listening to Merrill any more? – no, it’s too old, it doesn’t have any digital inputs – can’t hook up the receiver to the DVD player or the TV – damn thing IS almost ten years old – at least at home we have Merrill – I wonder how favored the Eagles are – ”

Whoa, whoa, WHOA, back that shit up. What was that bit about the home theater?

It was then I realized: I didn’t have to try and top the HDTV (and probably couldn’t anyway), but I could COMPLEMENT it by upgrading our old home theater system, which has now been reduced to an oversized radio, to a slick-ass new receiver with a Blu-Ray player.

I am a Christmas gift finding GOD.

So I bopped around Amazon and found a Blu-Ray home theater that fit the requirements I had come up with and then some: multiple digital inputs so that the TV and… you know…. other peripherals could be plugged into it (COUGH Xbox COUGH), enough power to level a small city, an iPod interface, built-in access to Pandora and Netflix, and bookshelf-size speakers so that I could just quickly swap them out with the ones we currently have strewn around the perimeter of the living room. I went over the specs once more, decided that it was perfect, and tacked it on to the rest of my Christmas gift order. The entire process, from firing up the laptop to order placed, took less than thirty minutes.

I may not be able to shut out my insane compulsions, but I can at least trick them sometimes.

Flash forward once again to Wednesday afternoon. Everything else I ordered has already arrived, but the home theater isn’t here yet. I’m not that worried – unlike everything else I’ve ever ordered from Amazon it has for some reason been shipped by FedEx. But, around 3 o’clock on Wednesday afternoon, there was a knock at the door. FedEx was here with my home theater and I was all set. I’d cleared a little space behind my bed where I could hide the box until Christmas Eve and I had been sneaking covert glances behind the TV to see what I’d have to do to rewire everything.

I opened the front door and all I saw was a giant box.

The box said, “are you John?”

I thought, what the fuck?

I said, “what the fuck?”

A head appeared just over the top of the box. It was wearing a FedEx hat. The delivery man.

He said, “you ordered the home theater?”

I said, “I… yeah… I… what the fuck?”

The delivery guy said, “is it okay?”

I said, “yeah, it’s just… it’s a lot bigger than I expected.”

“Well, here you go.” The delivery guy pushed the box into the sunporch with a grunt and then headed out the door. “Merry Christmas!”

“Yeah, uh…” I said, still staring at the box. “Merry Christmas to you too.”

I stood there transfixed by this giant box – its dimensions are almost exactly those of a coffin – standing upright in my sunporch.

The only thought in my head was WHAT WENT WRONG?!

I pulled out my iPhone and booted up the Amazon app while I circled the box in a vain attempt to figure out exactly what the fuck has happened here. I ordered a Blu-Ray receiver with a center, a sub, and 4 bookshelf speakers. Even with padding and everything, I made a rough estimate that this box was about 400% bigger than it should have been. There was no way it would fit in the space I had cleared behind the bed. The goddamn thing wasn’t much smaller than the bed.

When I got around to the far side I realized the problem – this home theater system has TOWER speakers. Not bookshelf speakers. Well, what the crap, of course the box is fucking enormous, the speakers are 4 feet longer than they’re supposed to be. They must have sent me the wrong home theater.

Just about when I realize why the box is so big my phone has finished pulling up my order on Amazon and tells me that this is, in fact, the home theater I ordered. I didn’t order the model with bookshelf speakers. I ordered this one, the giant coffin full of consumer electronics on my sunporch. Amazon also informed me that the package weighs 79 pounds. I poked at the box to see if it was that heavy and almost jammed my finger for my trouble: she didn’t budge.

I started trying to break down the issue as rationally as I could.

My first thought was: how am I going to get this thing upstairs? My back is so fucked up I can barely pick up my boxers off the bathroom floor. This thing weighs 80 pounds and is the size of a person.

My second thought was: even if I can get it upstairs without dying, where am I going to put it so they don’t see it until Christmas? It’s the size of a goddamn PERSON.

My third thought was: okay, so, if I killed someone, where on the second floor of this house could I hide their body?

I looked at the box, looked at the stairs, looked at the box again, and said out loud to the empty house, “this is gonna cause me problems.”

Merry Christmas, all.

JLK

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